Rethinking Intervention with eSpark
We are both intervention teachers at KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory School (LA Prep), a middle school located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. LA Prep serves 456 5th-8th grade students, of whom 98% are Latino, 1% are African American, 1% are Asian American, and 90% qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. Though LA Prep has been proving what’s possible in improving education since 2003, we are constantly looking for new ways to best serve our students.
Our goal as the intervention team is to provide differentiated instruction for students who are below grade level in reading and math. This is most challenging during our enrichment period where we serve 20 students who are three or more grade levels behind in both reading and math. These students require constant small group instruction, one-on-one review, and individualized long-term learning plans geared towards grade-level mastery. Even with two teachers in the classroom at all times, we found ourselves struggling to provide all 20 students with the necessary individualized attention that they needed and deserved.
Early on, we identified iPads as a promising technology tool in our classroom – the abundant availability of math- and reading-focused applications meant new and engaging ways for our students to practice and master skills. This would also make it easier for us to provide one-on-one instruction to students while others worked on iPads. Although our school provided us with 20 iPads for our class, we spent a significant amount of time researching and determining which educational applications were most effective and appropriate for our students.
It seemed like someone must have already figured out what apps were best for kids. In the interest of streamlining our work, we did some research and discovered eSpark, a company that promotes personalized learning on iPads by vetting educational apps and creating individualized missions for students based on their test scores.
Using NWEA MAP data (a norm-referenced test students take each fall and spring), eSpark assigns each student an individualized math and reading goal and creates multiple standards-missions with relevant videos to reteach the skills and apps to practice them until mastery. One app might have students swiping a ninja sword through composite numbers to break them down into their prime factors while another has them recording their own voices reading a story; one child might be playing phonics tic-tac-toe while another races a clock to find multiples of five. Whatever the given activity, however, we have generally found that the apps are an excellent balance of entertainment and rigor.
Since we have introduced eSpark into our enrichment program, student productivity, engagement, and focus during our two-hour period have drastically improved. At any given time, ten students are working on their eSpark missions while five students are receiving small-group instruction in math and five others are receiving small-group instruction in reading. We love how engaged, focused, and productive the students are while using eSpark with minimal adult supervision. eSpark is a particularly good match for our visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners. As we walk around the classroom, students are blending words, reading interactive books at their level, and practicing basic math facts. Students are always excited to work with eSpark because they enjoy the freedom of choosing applications within a mission while still making progress towards their reading or math goal. It also provides a consistently engaging amount of review of previously covered material in both subjects. The students get to keep practicing, increasing their opportunities to achieve mastery.
While we are thoroughly enjoying having eSpark in our intervention classroom, we are still working out all the kinks. For example, sometimes students find an app they enjoy so much that they are reluctant to move on to the next one even after it is no longer helping them improve on a given standard. Some apps are not intuitive to the students and yet they don’t ask a teacher for help, wasting time working with an app they’re not using properly. Furthermore, eSpark does not include an assessment component at the end of each mission, meaning we do not have any easily accessible, concrete data that speaks to significant academic gains. To compensate, we require each student to record a video of them teaching another peer what they learned at the end of each mission. This is often difficult for them to complete independently and requires more adult supervision.
Despite these obstacles, we are ultimately thrilled with this addition to our intervention resources. It has afforded us much more freedom to spend time one-on-one with students as we try to help them meet their academic goals. Because of this freedom, and the guided practice our students receive through eSpark, we feel that our students are thriving.